To Value Virtue Over Wealth

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A trip to the temple to burn incense on New Year’s Day is still a tradition in China. But people’s prayers have changed. Rather than paying respect to the Buddha, people today ask for things, mostly to eliminate hardships and make a fortune. Ancient Chinese traditions taught people to value virtue over wealth. A person who would seek no monetary compensation when doing a good deed was said to receive virtue and attain rewards from an otherworldly realm.

A collection of poems and discourses by Geng Creek compiled during the Song dynasty, 960–1279 AD, tells one such story.

A young man by the last name Yang, was born into a poor family. He was said to have been a diligent student and also cared for and respected his parents. Each time he had a little extra food or something of a little value, he would give it to his parents instead of keeping it for himself.

One year, on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, a touring Taoist came to visit Yang. The visitor called himself Taoist Hui. Hui and Yang got along well, and Hui ended up staying at Yang’s home for quite some time.

When it came time for Hui to leave, he took a pill from his medicine pouch and put it on a stone. The stone instantly turned into gold. Then he handed the gold nugget to Yang with the words: “This is my appreciation for your hospitality, it’s for the improvement of your living conditions.”

But Yang declined. He realized that the Taoist must be a deity, and said: “I prefer not to have gold. However, if you will grant me a wish, divine Taoist Hui, I’d like a poem from you on the wall to make my humble home shine.”

Taoist Hui took the brush pen from Yang, dipped it in red pigment, and wrote this poem on the wall:

Yang, a true man of honour and dignity,
your filial piety has moved the vast universe.
The Great Lord saw your steadfastness during hardship
and sent me here on the seventh day of the seventh month.
I have turned a stone into gold
to help you fulfil your filial duties.
But you insisted on not taking the gift,
so I cannot force it on you against your will.
While I cannot stay any longer in this world,
it is my sincere wish that you keep up your lofty goal.
In a Year of the Rat you will ascend above the clouds
as easily as flipping your palm.

Yang did not die in his humble home. Years later he vanished. No one in the neighbourhood knew his whereabouts. It appears a predestined relationship with the Taoist Hui led him to a transcending path, or according to a saying in Chinese folklore, he “toured the sky above the clouds as arranged.”

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